Ireland, as we know, has two police forces these days. There is, on the one hand, the Gardai, dedicated to enforcing the laws of the land, passed by the Dáil. And then on the other hand, there is the entity that radio presenters and newspaper reporters refer to as “twitter”, which is dedicated to enforcing proper thought and opinion, and passing judgment on anyone who commits the offence of saying the wrong thing.
The latest thought-criminal is Galway Independent TD Noel Grealish, who, it is alleged, committed the worst crime of all last night at a public meeting in County Galway.
The setting for his crime was Oughterard, at a gathering of locals concerned about the rumoured opening of a direct provision centre in a local hotel. The Irish Times reports that the atmosphere was one of firm opposition:
Speaker after speaker expressed anger at the lack of consultation, information and clarity which they say has fuelled rumours in recent weeks concerning refurbishment works at the Connemara Gateway Hotel in Oughterard, which has been closed for a number of years.
Cllr Tom Welby chaired the meeting on behalf of an ad hoc Facebook group which is campaigning to stop any plans to accommodate asylum seekers in the town.
Cllr Welby said neither he or any of the public representatives attending the meeting, including Minister of State Seán Kyne and TDs Catherine Connolly and Noel Grealish, had knowledge of any plans for the future of the building.
However, Mr Kyne told the angry meeting there was a tender process ongoing in the west to find locations for new asylum seeker centres but that this was under the remit of the Department of Justice and neither he nor his colleagues were privy to information about any applications.
The Times makes no report of any comments made by Deputy Grealish. However, a local left wing activist, Joe Loughnane, alleges that Mr. Grealish said at the meeting that the majority of African immigrants were economic migrants, and that the only genuine asylum seekers in Ireland were Christians fleeing persecution from ISIS:
Before we say anything else, the first thing to note is that Joe Loughnane, a people before profit activist with a long record of shouting people down, is an unreliable narrator who simply cannot be trusted to be objective or forthright on the immigration issue.
Here he is, for reference, shouting down speakers at an event in Galway a few years ago:
Deputy Grealish, by contrast, has represented his Galway West constituents with dignity and moderation for many years.
We have no evidence that he even made the comments reported. No one else present has reported what Loughane heard as fact and no recordings of the event are available.
But let us, for arguments sake, assume that he did.
The first thing to say is that in any democracy, the people’s representatives must be free to articulate the concerns of the people. In any discussion of immigration, the questions that should be asked are very simple: How many immigrants should we accept, on what basis should we accept them, and how can we accommodate them?
An immigration policy that works will have answers to those questions. It will also mean, very simply, that those who are not included in the criteria for immigration will not be permitted to come and live here. Otherwise, we do not have an immigration policy at all, we simply have unrestricted immigration.
Debating immigration policy also means reflecting on whether what we currently do works as it is intended. There is significant evidence that in Ireland’s case, the asylum system does not work as intended. For starters, the Dublin Convention makes clear under EU law that those seeking Asylum should do so in the first EU country that they reach. There are, at present, no direct flights, for example from Dublin to Nigeria. Someone arriving in Ireland from Nigeria to claim Asylum is almost certainly a result of a breach of EU law.
Second, there is significant evidence that asylum applications into Ireland rise and fall with the performance of the Irish economy.
The number of new asylum claims halved from the peak of 2012 during the following two years. Numbers remained stable at just below or above 4,000 new asylum claims a year between 2004 and 2008.
From 2009, numbers declined further, dropping to below 1,000 in 2012 and 2013. However, in 2015 there was a surge, back up to almost 3,300.
This makes no sense. An asylum applicant is somebody fleeing persecution in their homeland – they seek security, not wealth. Unless we are expected to believe that persecution patterns match almost exactly Irish economic performance, it is not credible to state that bogus asylum claims which are really attempts at economic migration do not exist. In fact, the evidence would suggest that such claims are probably widespread.
Ireland also has the lowest rate of refusal for Asylum applicants in the EU – a mere 15% of all applications are rejected, as opposed to 63% on average across the EU. Does this tell us that Ireland gets more genuine refugees, in our remote location on the edge of the EU, or does it tell us that our authorities are much more lenient than our European colleagues?
An Asylum seeker is somebody fleeing persecution. Somebody fleeing poverty is not an Asylum seeker, and should not be dealt with under that law.
When Mr. Grealish says that a great many African migrants are economic migrants, the evidence says that he is correct. When he says that we know that Christians fleeing ISIS are fearing persecution, the evidence says that he is right.
Nonetheless, there are already calls for Mr. Grealish to apologise and resign. He may well do one or the other, but he should not. Ireland is long overdue a proper debate on immigration. The Fine Gael Government says that we will have a million extra people living here by 2040 – but where these people are coming from is rarely, if ever, discussed.
If the establishment parties do not wish to debate and discuss this openly with the Irish people, and if it comes to it, accept their decision to limit immigration, then other parties will come along and do that for them.
And “twitter” may end up liking those a lot less than it likes Mr. Grealish.